Political ideology is often hypothetical. The clue is in the name: “IDEA-ology”. It can be exhausting. It exhausts people to live in ideological space for too long. We become disjointed, disconnected, unreal and out-of-touch.
It affects anyone who lives and breathes passionate ideology, whether you agree with them or not. Whether it’s a hypocritical triggered right-wing gammon or a confusing smug elitist liberal, the signs are the same.
You feel relentless, passionate, inspired, but tired. You look possessed, obsessed, relentless. Your relatives and friends dread discussing anything with you, lest they make a fatal misstep.
Isn’t passion meant to be a virtue? Isn’t idealism what is needed to bring people into the light, into a better world? Does it matter if you tread on a few toes along the way, if the way is the path to utopia? You are not alone, other people are fighting just as fervently as you are, and that gives you strength and comradeship.
When your passion begins to hurt you, other people become the enemy
Humans aren’t made out of ideas and philosophy. We have stress hormones, social needs, natural instincts, natural limits. You feel tired, burdened by your own awareness and passion, and the constant conflict this incites. If only other people would understand, and care, then your burden would be eased, right?
Not everyone cares. Many people (or should we say “sheeple”) bizarrely seem happy just living their own small personal lives. It’s mind-boggling how someone can look at the complexity and the struggles of our changing world, and simply turn their back on it with a shrug and “I don’t like to get involved in that kind of thing”. Not only is it confusing, but it’s frustrating, concerning, worrying. Surely this borders on sociopathic?
You have a responsibility to show this person the light. You need to make this person care. That’s how the story goes, right?
If the stakes weren’t so high, maybe you would be them instead. But to put yourself above the chaos and the mission seems intolerably selfish. It would be unthinkable to just give up.
Does your life need to be dominated by politics to have meaning?
Justice warriors, on any side, are pushing themselves, often to their limits, in pursuit of their ideals. From the outside, it looks unhealthy, harsh, and unforgiving. From the inside, it feels like a calling, a passion, something that cannot be ignored.
That calling is normally for a better world and a fairer way, whatever that means to the individual. Against a whole world, individual limits are allowed to pale into insignificance.
Whilst you are inflicting your chosen philosophy on other people, that isn’t a problem. They make mistakes because they aren’t informed enough, and you inform and correct them. You enforce improvements. It’s a role to take seriously. As long as your energy remains directed outwards, there’s no problem.
Even directing your energy inwards is okay, within the limits of testing and improving yourself and your philosophy. You can’t afford to focus on anything else though, ideological purity must be maintained, even whilst it makes you isolated and single-minded.
If this philosophical struggle is so worthy and important, why do people stubbornly remain outside of it?
1. They know their limits.
Caring about issues takes up an awful lot of time and energy. There’s a reason why there’s a stereotype about politically active students being “layabouts”. When people have other constraints on their time, like work or a family to support, it’s harder to make time for all the research, education and conversation that is needed to build and sustain your passionate worldview. It’s not impossible, but it might not be a priority.
2. Real life is central to actual politics.
In this ideal world you are pushing for, do people have work? Families? Hobbies and interests outside of politics? In which case, the people who choose to step back from engagement are also the people who populate your idealised world. Humans and wider society will always be a part of any philosophical ideal we hold, so it shouldn’t be surprising that for some people, it’s an easy choice to prioritise their own lives over a hypothetical ideology for the greater good. This choice shouldn’t be taken as a slight to your idealism, because this mundane normality is the basic fabric that you want to preserve or improve.
3. Not everyone can be a member of the thought-police.
A large part of what keeps the idealism motor running is improving other people and educating them. This cannot be sustained if everyone considers it their job, see: a group of feminists discussing whether high heels are good or bad. There is a natural limit to how many small-scale political experts your social group can sustain, so it’s probably for the best that a lot of people chose to step back for most issues.
Take a message from the masses; it will give you strength, patience, and make you more relatable.
Social change can feel daunting, insurmountable, and unforgiving. Every step you take can feel like it has to be right, has to move you further towards a better future, or else it will feel like a step backwards, doing damage to your cause. It can feel unforgivable to take some time to yourself, to not be informed, to not speak up.
But we all know that it is important. For people who believe in self-care, it should be obvious. For people who believe in self-advancement, it should be obvious. It’s still far too easy to put the greater good above ourselves. It is easy to be mesmerised by the greater future, and forget the present. We can forget we are part of the society we are trying to save.
By focusing all our efforts on improvement, we forget to appreciate the everyday life that we want to improve for others. This is how we become detached from the ordinariness which should be at the centre of our ideals.
Making sure we focus on an ordinary life, including our own, can help us to stay in perspective and be more effective activists. It’s harder for unrealistic extremist ideas to flourish when you embrace the messy reality of ordinary lives.